MINNEAPOLIS -- The NFL suspended Minnesota left tackle Bryant McKinnie for four games without pay Friday for violating the league's personal conduct policy, a blow to the protection of Vikings quarterback Tarvaris Jackson's blind side.
McKinnie has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from a street brawl outside a Miami nightclub in February. He will be eligible to return to the Vikings' active roster following the team's Sept. 28 game against Tennessee.
McKinnie will miss games against Green Bay, Indianapolis and Carolina. That means potential matchups against premier pass rushers Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (Packers), Dwight Freeney (Colts) and Julius Peppers (Panthers).
Seven-year veteran Artis Hicks, who was Minnesota's starter at right guard for 1½ seasons before being unseated by Anthony Herrera, is expected to fill in at left tackle for McKinnie. Though McKinnie's performance has been up and down, the Vikings' first-round draft pick in 2002 has not missed a start since ending a holdout midway through his rookie year. That's 87 straight games.
Jackson remains a question mark at quarterback, and -- though coach Brad Childress has said repeatedly over the past few months he couldn't be concerned about the possibility of punishment for McKinnie -- this was a discouraging development for this team 10 days before the season opener.
McKinnie signed a seven-year, $48.5 million contract extension, including more than $17 million in guaranteed money, in September 2006. The Vikings did not practice Friday and had no comment.
McKinnie's attorney, Larry Kerr, said a pretrial hearing on the criminal charges is scheduled next month in Miami-Dade County Court. A telephone message left by The Associated Press for McKinnie's agent, Ben Dogra, was not immediately returned.